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luc courchesne : Telemimetic Reciprocities
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Telemimetic Reciprocities
A philosophical consideration of the immersive artwork of Luc Courchesne
by Michaël La Chance, translated by Ron Ross

The perceptual devices that Luc Courchesne builds into his projects have tremendous impact on the fundamental relationships of space and seeing, of language and encounter, in our society. They reactualize the panoptic fantasy of exhaustive vision - and exhaustive power. Today's artists call upon new means to realize old fantasies... Or are they simply participants in a transformation?

In this transformation, the image has become detached from its material support; it travels through electronic circuits and takes shape in our minds as a highly developed photosensitive device - but also as a relay for a cognitive community. The image is constitutive of our experience, and that is why the subject can enter into the image, which has become an immersive capsule that lends itself to controlled interactions. The subject now knows that he or she is a specular moment in society's interactive arrangements, in its mediatized devices - and not just engaged in a specular relationship with him or herself.

Our sensorium is an electromagnetic spectrum increasingly invaded by shortcuts and substitutes. The collapse of time and space accompanies sensory manipulations that substitute themselves for real sensations. This telereality rests on our capacity for accepting substitutes, depending on the persuasive power of our telemimetic technologies.

In telepresence stations we discover an almost coercive and reciprocal capture: to watch is to be seen. Can artistic projects redirect our enquiry toward modes of presence? How can art propose new experiences of sociality?

The Internet is a book whose pages are scattered, yet which is wholly reconstituted at every point. The pages are displaced, and as individual identity no longer refers to linear narrative, individuals themselves are displaced. Thus, we free the motion-image from sequencing to elicit different forms of participation. It is a matter of prompting desirable interactions, of prolonging the relationship in a being-together.

Our mutual reality is more important than our physical reality. The being-together in which we make ourselves visible to each other (what Foucault called "light-being") precedes an encounter with the concrete, defined primarily by resistance and opacity. Sociality determines a form of space in which distance is no longer an indication of solitude.

Frescoes were once painted for public spaces; today one paints with video projectors onto semi-spherical domes or 360-degree cylinders. Soon, the street will be the screen - we want the image to fit every locale, to substitute itself for the locale, to be our eidolotopon. With the panoramic image, representation reaches its greatest exhaustivity, and the spectator is its pivoting centre. At the centre of the panoscopic image, the black spot is an irruption of the process that punctures the representation. It marks the irruption of an outside, of an elsewhere. The image had seemed to take in everything surrounding us, to throw light on the whole world, when, on the rebound, darkness returned through the centre.

Rendez-vous sur les bancs publics (created by Luc Courchesne, Monique Savoie and collaborators in 1999) reveals the volatile sociality of the passerby who encounters a telepresence station and decides to stay a moment. This telepresence proposes an exotic intimacy, it reaches people of different cultures and allegiances, outside their circuit of social relations and possible encounters.

To get closer to each other, we want to be the same. We'll have all the time afterward to explore our differences, to discover how we diverge. Under the dome, we all breathe to the rhythm of the same screen; the megadome arching over two hundred people is our cybercultural cathedral.

In this one-on-one, my counterpart is like "me". He is a "me" for himself, and another for others. Telepresence would thus seem to show that all we have to distinguish ourselves from each other is this inverted symmetry.

What is the "Other"? Are Others the same as each other in their undifferentiated distance? Would the Other have the homogeneity of the Same? Or perhaps it is a question of an exploded Other, each of us laying claim to pure Otherness, incommensurable with all Others. Telepresence favours the identical, based on the premise that communication could not occur otherwise. That simplistic premise has dramatic consequences when it leads to taking things at face value: to think, for instance, that communication is only possible between clones, that differences in point of view would soon put an end to communication.

The proliferation of mediations reinforces the tyranny of the audible, the visible, and the intelligible - and, by the same token, reinforces the demand for the identical. The speaker simplifies the message to ensure its intelligibility, to the point of saying exactly what people expect.

The "classic" tends to make the mediation invisible, in denial of any manipulation. The "supermodern" tends to accelerate presence, to make all points of space continuous with all others, while continuing to obfuscate the underlying mechanisms of representation. Telepresent encounters remind us that we appear before ourselves as others appear before us; we interact with the awareness we have of ourselves, and with the image of our own body; we gather news about ourselves through a mirror. That is why, in the telepresent encounter, I immediately superimpose my own image on the Other: he sees me as I see him, in a mediological overdetermination of the rapport to oneself.

We turn these panoramic images into environments conducive to interaction. The created environment often extends beyond the exhibition space and manages to absorb it. Whether it be a gallery or a public venue, the exhibition space will be imbued with new immersive visual information. For every object is, in part, information; every space has a predetermined occupation, and can be redefined.

Certain visibilities have a paradigmatic role. I'm speaking of the interactive and immersive works developed by Luc Courchesne in the electronic arts: veritable "luminous utterances" in the midst of light. They bring out how conditions for perceptual possibilities differ from one historical configuration to the next. There is a form of visibility in our time, and this epochal light determines privileges of point of view, the variable geometry and range of our visibility. Its culmination resides in our panoptic fantasy.

The classic model found its perfect expression in the project of social control through geometry: Bentham's panopticon remains the paradigm for technocratic measures applied to the sociopolitical realm. The correlation between visibility and control is so strong that there is no longer any visible authority, every individual's gaze exerting a micropower of the rule. Isn't it ironic that artists today are attempting to further extend the application of the panoptic image, as if it were a given that the "all seeing" was in itself a good thing?

Technology's current obsession with presenting itself as a creator of realities, with creating a representation so realistic as to mislead us to confuse natural experience with a sensory substitute - is this not too restrictive? Particularly when this technology could instead usher in new orders of reality, new levels of experience, new forms of being-together?

The artist cannot go against techno-rationalities, nor escape the process. But he can avoid peddling the illusion that it is enough to refuse. He can reveal the process! Our technology allows us to objectify our cognitive-perceptual patterns, as well as our nature/mind and real/representation recursive loops. It distances us from these, giving us the freedom to change some of them. Courchesne collapses the point of the classic perspective cone into its base - an indelible and shamefaced black spot. He strives to equip our vision with a prosthetic (panoptic) extension, but in the end he advocates an abandonment of self in the circle.

Many contemporary artists are moved by a panoptic fantasy, which seems inevitable as soon as the space in which things appear becomes a form of power. How people speak to each other correlates to how they see themselves. We would like the possibility of seeing ourselves differently in order to speak differently. Indeed, we would like to see the other precisely as he strives to signify himself, because there is a connection between the way one shows oneself off and the way one puts oneself forward in speech.

When physical restrictions are partially lifted, psychopolitical overdetermination becomes clearer to us: there is a discourse (a being-language, and also a being-light) that determines the conditions, places, and occasions of the encounter. For the encounter depends upon a "lighting" of individuals with respect to each other, on their reciprocity within this being-light. Here then is minimal sociality: it is a question of sharing an encyclopedia of the real (Eco), and also of sharing imagination. Already, in his work Encyclopedia Chiaroscuro (1989), Courchesne gave the viewer's imagination a big role to play, granted it familiarity. Our very subjectivity reifies itself; our memory floats before us like an impersonal database, fragments of an anonymous narration.

Courchesne calls this minimal sociality "trust". It's the ethical dimension of Courchesne's work. What conditions help establish trust? The identical, the exotic, the beautiful, and the sphere. Encircled by a 360-degree landscape, we are gathered in the protective circle of the first community, under a screen swollen with images. We are our world, hurling and revealing itself everywhere, never becoming too complex or noisy, nor overwhelming the archaic substrate of the human sensorium.

In the end, the beautiful catches our attention so that we may accompany things through time. The beautiful reveals individuals to each other in a shared luminosity. It is the promise of continuation, of a connection maintained, and of confidence gained.

Is the Ptolemaic referent impassable? An immersive device will engulf it in a mise en abyme.

Michaël La Chance is a writer and philosopher of aesthetics. He teaches Art Theory and History at UQAC, and is director of the university's art gallery ("l'oeuvre de l'autre"). He is a member of CELAT, a researcher in the FCAR team "La mémoire brisée", and is in charge of the CAMERAS group ("Création artistique multimédia et recherche au Saguenay"). Michaël has authored numerous articles of art criticism and scholarly contributions in literary and visual aesthetics, and is on the editorial board of the magazine Art Actuel.

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